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Atlanta Hawks Season in Review: Tim Hardaway Jr.

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Decision time is approaching

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Hardaway Jr. is entering restricted free agency coming off of by far the best season of his career. He set career highs in almost every counting stat. And he took on more offensive responsibility as his second season with the Atlanta Hawks progressed. While he never reached the level of consistency that was probably desired. It is unpleasant to think of how much worse of an offensive team the Hawks would have been without his production.

The Superlatives

It’s challenging to know where to start and end when it comes to capturing how good he was offensively this season. So let’s just take a look at a list of some of the most impressive marks.

These accomplishments put him in some pretty special company and indicate that his offensive ceiling could be very high. His performance as measured by how incredibly well he can play in stretches offensively honestly makes him look like future all-star. But his performance as measured by consistency provides a less optimistic outlook.

There is no doubt, in my mind, that he was at worst the Hawks 3rd best player on the roster during the 2016-17 season. He had the best net rating of any player that was in the rotation for the entire season. And while he does not have the reputation of being an above average defender, his individual defensive rating of 103.1 was as good as the Hawks defensive rating on the season and that was good enough for 4th best in the league.

The Next Contract

As mentioned, Hardaway is up for restricted free agency and the Hawks have a decision to make. In his exit interview, he made it clear that he wants to continue his career with the Hawks. And when considering the offensive limitations of this version of the Hawks team, it could seem to make this the most obvious of choices. But it is not that simple.

Hardaway is, to me, one of those players that one could make the argument that the Hawks absolutely must retain him and find plenty of supporting evidence. One could also make the case that paying him even modestly would be a mistake and find plenty of evidence to support that view as well.

Much of this will come down to whether the Hawks view Hardaway as a no-doubt starting shooting guard in the league; he did have the 15th best PER among all shooting guards this past season (subscription required). So it would seem that a person or an organization could talk themselves into that position if that were the objective.

Unfortunately, my view is that (right now) Hardaway is a terrible fit next to Dennis Schroder in a potential starting back court. Defensively there is just not enough collective skill and versatility among the two. This was painfully evident in the Hawks 6-game playoff loss to the Washington Wizards; the Hawks gave up 111.9 points per 100 possessions when THJ and Schroder shared the floor.

It it were my decision to make, I would approach this way: if Hardaway wants a four-year contract then he needs to accept an annual value that reflects that he is an above average 3rd guard on a team. If wants to be in position to earn starter money and have an opportunity to compete for the starting shooting guard position entering next season, then a two-year contract at a higher annual value might most appropriate.

That would get him back on the market at the age of 27. If by then he can demonstrate that he can play with significantly more consistency on offense and with more strength and physicality on defense, then he will have earned the contract that he and his agent probably have in mind.